The Last Years of the Soviet Empire: Snapshots from 1985-1991

By Vladimir Shlapentokh; Neil F. O'Donnell | Go to book overview

IS THE USSR HEADED TOWARD BLOOM OR DOOM? JULY 1988

This essay pinpoints the conflict that would later determine the fate of
Gorbachev's perestroika: great progress in the political sphere and stagnation
in the economy.

When I left the Soviet Union nearly ten years ago, the majority of the Soviet people were satisfied with their standard of living and with the existing political order. Although a few dissident intellectuals refused to recognize this fact, it was confirmed by numerous polls that I conducted in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as by my own personal experience.

Loose labor discipline, guaranteed employment, and a relatively abundant supply of goods all contributed to the atmosphere of "complacency" during the Brezhnev era. This complacency, in turn, led to a widespread sense of apathy regarding the decaying economy.

I recently visited Moscow for the first time in nearly a decade. Compared to the relatively content and apathetic country I left almost ten years ago, I returned to find a society rife with dissatisfaction and fear.

Numerous polls, including a recent one in Moscow that tapped people's attitudes toward perestroika, only partially reflect the real mood of the country. Although approximately two-thirds of those surveyed support Gorbachev's domestic policies, this support is less an endorsement of Gorbachev's programs as it is a rejection of the programs of the past, and the effects of past programs on the lives of the Soviet people. The people's disenchantment stems in large part from the revelations of glasnost, which have graphically revealed the squalor in which many Soviet people live.

Indeed, verbal support for perestroika does not necessarily translate into support for specific elements of Gorbachev's platform. For example, Gorbachev's program of perestroika, which the Soviet people support overall, seeks to promote private initiative through the organization of private cooperatives. Yet, in June, Soviet television recounted that the residents of a village near Moscow torched a building housing a new private cooperative not once but three times. The journalist who reported the incident called for official recognition that "the majority of the population is strongly against cooperatives." Other data, including polls and letters to newspapers, confirm the reporter's assertion.

Another proposed economic reform--the decentralization of management

____________________
This article originally appeared in The Christian Science Monitor on July 6, 1988.

-76-

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